It was 3am in a seedy hotel in Camberwell, south London. With their drunk wedding guests still happily dancing the night away, Olivia, 40, and her new husband Laurie, 39, returned to their room and jumped into bed together. “It would definitely have been weird for us not to have had sex on our wedding day,” Olivia tells me nine years after the big day. “It’s our favourite thing.”
In fact, she’d so loved her first day being called ‘Mrs’ that she spent all day looking forward to getting between the sheets. So she chucked her red wine-spattered wedding dress into the sink – and had sex. “Weddings are weird because you don’t get to spend much time together,” she says. “You both look amazing and yet you’re often just appreciating each other from across the room. So we couldn’t wait for the our chance just to be together.”
Historically the wedding night was often the first time a couple shared a bed – so you can understand a willingness to power through the exhaustion, drunkeness and awkward-to-remove wedding attire. It’s the reason wedding night sex attained its near-mythical connotations.
But now the landscape is very different, with the number of couples who co-habit before marrying far outnumbering those who don’t – and many newlyweds admit that for them, wedding night sex didn’t happen at all.
Natalie*, 27, was expecting her wedding night to be super romantic, intimate and beautiful “just like in the movies”. In fact, when she got married two years ago, she and her husband were so knackered they were asleep the moment their heads hit the pillows. “When we got in bed we just knew sex was off the cards. We were unbelievably tired,” she says.
Our close friends even asked jokingly how we consummated our marriage…”
But while the reality was giving in to exhaustion, there was still an expectation – not just from each other, but also from friends – that their wedding night would be steamy. “Everyone at our wedding kept joking about how wild our wedding night was going to be and they were definitely expecting sex,” she says.
“Our close friends even asked the next day jokingly about how we consummated our marriage. They all laughed when we told them we were snoring within one minute.”
Natalie and her partner are not alone in swapping sex for sleep. Faustina, 41, who was married 13 years ago, also found her wedding night expectations were put on ice when she and her husband dozed off in the bath before they got a chance to have sex.
“[Wedding sex] dominated all talks amongst my friends and classmates way before I got married. So I thought it was something that was bound to happen. However, on the night we both were too tired and fell asleep in the bathtub.”
Both women say their husbands felt more disheartened that sex hadn’t happened. Natalie says: “My husband was excited about our first night as a married couple and had been imagining all the things we would be doing that night – bless him!”
Karolina, 29, married her partner in Poland five years ago. Neither she nor her husband were bothered that they slept instead of having sex. “We went to bed at 6am – Polish weddings are really long,” she explains. “After 18 hours of stress, party, all we wanted was to get some sleep. It was just another night we spent together.”
Not everyone succumbs to the lure of sleep over sex. Other couples simply prioritise their stomachs. Cara*, 28, who got married in May 2016, said: “By the time we’d got back to our room, all there was left to do was order a burger and chips on room service, take off the dress that had left me with bruises, and rest my throbbing feet.”
For Charlotte and her new husband, there was dinner then admin: “We went to McDonald’s on the way back home, had a feast, made note of gifts and then packed ready for our honeymoon the next morning,” she recalls. “I think we fell asleep to Family Guy. It didn’t bother us.”
For others, just getting undressed for bed proved the impossible obstacle to christening the marriage in the way they’d imagined. Nigel, 62, and his bride got to the honeymoon suite to find a bottle of champagne and a full decanter of brandy. “We shared both but my biggest challenge was yet to come,” he says. “First to get her to the toilet (as the bridesmaids were nowhere to be seen) and then get the dress off her so she could get to bed. Who knew that would be so tough…”
Zoë, 33, who married her husband Ben in September 2017, also struggled. “He got in the shower and I couldn’t get out of my dress. I had to go and find my mum’s room to get her to unhook me as there were lots of tiny buttons, too small for his hands.” Freed of her frock she returned to her new husband. “When I got back to our room, he was asleep in his wedding trousers face down on the bed.”
Tearing themselves away from guests proved tricky for other couples. When Sam and her husband Paul got married, they stayed up all night drinking with old friends they hadn’t seen in a long time. “We had hired the whole hotel and were all staying there, it was such a great day to catch up. I don’t think it is the big deal it used to be. People have sex before marriage and often live together. Many just want to enjoy their wedding day and party with friends and family.”
When the pair finally climbed the stairs to bed they exchanged a kiss and went to bed – Sam left the bridal nightwear she had bought specifically for another night. “I think many couples enjoy great sex on their honeymoon, as we did,” she says.
That certainly seems the case. But props to the newly-weds who do prioritise sex on their wedding day. (Or at least manage to stay awake long enough to have any). Martin, 41, and his wife Lucy had the “best sex” they’d had in ages on their wedding night in 2007, he says – they’d had a brilliant day, were drunk, really in the mood and keen to get down to it.
For Sarah*, 29, and her partner, who got married in 2012 after two and a half years together, they felt the need to consummate their big day – even though they both felt like going to sleep. “Wedding night? You’ve got to seal the deal, right? We had sex because we thought we had to seal the deal even though we were super tired,” she says.
Which is some commitment to marking a sexual milestone – and more than most people manage. While it was definitely a consideration for many of the people we spoke to, many just couldn’t stay awake long enough to see it through.
Some names have been changed.